Met plans to scrap Trafficking Unit are a Disgrace

Labour Party

Trafficking PicThe plans announced by the Metropolitan Police to abolish its specialist unit dealing with human traficking – trafficking of women and children – are nothing short of a disgrace.

I woke up to hear this bombshell on the “Today” programme, which we can get in Brussels, this morning hardly able to contain myself.  Trafficking of women is to a large extent trafficking to sell women into prostitution.  These often unsuspecting women are lured away from their homes, frequently on the pretext of a better life elsewhere, only to find themselves totally in thrall to ruthless criminals whose only aim is to exploit them for gain.  It really is a modern form of slavery and should be treated as such.  I hope there will be a major outcry against the Met’s plans so that they are forced to think again.

What is more, the Met trafficking unit has been viewed as an international example of good practice.  It also takes several years to develop expertise into trafficking, expertise which would more than likely be lost if the Met were to disband its unit which has built up a range of knowledge since its inception in 2007.  The nature of the crime also means that those cases which are brought to book are only the tip of the iceberg and if more of the iceberg is to be exposed, specialist expertise is required.

There is, in addition, the matter of the Olympics in London in 2012.  The last football World Cup in Germany attracted thousnads of prostitutes who openly plied their wares as prostitution is legal in Germany.  I was, in fact, one of a number of women who signed a petition to the German Government to outlaw prostitution at the World Cup.  The general view was that a large number, more than likely the majority of those women had been trafficked from outside the host country.  For the sake of the trafficked women, we need to be extremely vigilant to ensure that the same thing does not happen in London in 2012.  It would be a massive tragedy if the Games were marred by any form of criminal element. 

The Labour Government has been very vigilant on the fight to stamp out trafficking.  When I organised my “Tackling Trafficking” conference two years ago, we were joined by the then Home Office Minister, Vernon Coker.  I therefore call on the Met to see sense and keep the trafficking unit.

I have started a petition asking the Met to rethink its plans for shutting this vital unit down. 

Please click here and sign it.

You can also follow my campaign by clicking on my campaigns page.

19 thoughts on “Met plans to scrap Trafficking Unit are a Disgrace

  1. It seems strange to scrap the Trafficking Unit only 6 months after the government announced that it was to get a further £3.7m over 2 years. Maybe this is an acknowledgement of the falsity of the trafficking figures for sexual exploitation. No one denies that people are trafficked. The numbers quoted of those trafficked for sexual exploitation are spuriously high, while people brought to this country on visas issued by British Embassies to families for their staff are very high. Many of these staff are not allowed to hold their own passports nor do they speak the language here. See the Committee of Human Rights recent report on trafficking. These are ignored because people like Ms Honeyball find prostitution a bit ‘icky’ and tries to ban things which have been decided by other democratically elected governments.
    There was mass hysteria before the World Cup about how dreadful it would all be, all the usual gothic horror stories were trotted out. What did we see? Happy families, and contented smiles. It is your own side Ms Honeyball who ramped up these figures. Even Alan Johnson admitted recently they have been badly worked out. And now they take the cowards way out with silent cuts.

  2. Dr Brooks-Gordon, Thank you for this comment. I take your point about the figyres. However, I do take issue with your comment that I find prostitution a bit ‘icky’. Prostitution is exploitation of women for fianacial gain. Few women either enter or stay as prostitutes willingly and most have a drug habit. I want every single woman to have the opportunity for a fulfilling life; prostitution most definitely does not provide this.

  3. It is cringeworthy noting the amount of clichéd vitriol against sex workers in the above post.
    Firstly as usual it ignores men and trans gender sex workers. Secondly it suggests that sex workers are with out any self determination. Thirdly suggesting that selling a sexual service is sexual slavery is insulting and actually does not add anything to the serious issue of real trafficking. Fourthly that sex work is synonymous with drug abuse is to stereotype a whole body of workers unfairly and with little justification other than from biased research that more often than not has reached its conclusions before the first word has been written. Fifth asserting that sex work is exploitation both ignores self determination and the experiences of many sex workers like myself who have entered sex work willingly and who reject the stereotyping and stigmatisation people like Mary Honeyball MEP perpetuates.
    Trafficking is a serious issue but it must not be confused with sex work or with economic migration whither legally or illegally. There are serious issues that need to be addressed with regard to sex work but those issues will only be addressed when sex work is recognised as work and we are proteced by the law not discriminated against and persecuted by the law.

    Douglas Fox

  4. Douglas. Yes there are men and transgender sex workers but I am unaware of them being trafficked as women are which is what the post refers to. I would welcome any information on this from you.
    I respect your choice but in relation to trafficked women I would comment again:
    “Few women either enter or stay as prostitutes willingly and most have a drug habit. I want every single woman to have the opportunity for a fulfilling life; prostitution most definitely does not provide this.”

  5. Thank you for your reply and I will try and obtain relevant information for you. What I would suggest very strongly to you however is that many foreign trans gender and gay male sex workers operate in London in particular but also increasingly in other parts of the UK just as female sex workers do. The issue is what proportion are trafficked ie coerced, tricked and forced and what proportion are economic migrants who use sex work as a way of obtaining a relatively high income with out the need for qualifications or registering for legal employment. These two issues are very different but are often deliberately confused in order to make a political and ideological point which is not good politics or a good basis on which to create yet more bad law.

    I must take issue very strongly with your statement that :

    ““Few women either enter or stay as prostitutes willingly and most have a drug habit. I want every single woman to have the opportunity for a fulfilling life; prostitution most definitely does not provide this.”

    I have worked for ten years. I know many, many female sex workers. Some work part time in sex work and also do other work. Some have very responsible career based jobs. I know many who have worked for many years (one in particular in to her retirement) and who very much see sex work as a career that provides a life style for themselves and their families with a degree of flexibility and rewards that other jobs just cannot give. I would refer you to the Suzanne Jenkins report from Keel university as a good reference for you to study.

    I understand the research that you may have read and which may well have influenced your present stance. Some of this research suggests that all sex work is a reaction to often difficult circumstances but this is not true for all sex workers by any means. I would argue very strongly that the experiences of the majority of sex workers are never taken into account or dismissed when we do speak because we operate mostly under the ray dar of those groups who have a specific interest in researching the experiences of the most vulnerable and then using that research as being exemplary of every experience of every sex worker. It is I suggest a little like making policy on the experience of cancer patients and then creating national health policy to govern the whole of the NHS on the experiences of that small but never the less important percentage. It would be wrong to do that but that is what is happening in regard to sex work. I am sure as a rational person that you must accept that this would be wrong.

    Douglas Fox

  6. hi Ms Honeyball

    A request for clarification.

    You say “…in relation to trafficked women I would comment again: “Few women either enter or stay as prostitutes willingly and most have a drug habit. I want every single woman to have the opportunity for a fulfilling life; prostitution most definitely does not provide this.”

    You seem to be stating that most victims of trafficking have a drug habit. Is this what you meant?

    Many thanks,


  7. the most important people in the prostitution debate are being ignored,the women who sell sex.

    the refusal of harriet harman et al,to meet with the english collective of prostitutes & international union of sex workers to discuss ways of making prostitution safer for women proves that the abolitionists are’nt interested in the welfare of women

    1. Catherine, Thank you very much for this. I obviously am not against the work those in the sex industry do with people with disabilities. However, my comments in the blog post still stand

  8. Ms Honeyball,

    ‘Few women either enter or stay as prostitutes willingly and most have a drug habit’

    You could take a look at the blogsphere and read a few of the well written blogs written by sex workers.

  9. Thanks for your reply. However, you still seem to be stating that victims of trafficking in the sex industry are drug addicts:
    “…in relation to trafficked women I would comment again: “Few women either enter or stay as prostitutes willingly and most have a drug habit. I want every single woman to have the opportunity for a fulfilling life; prostitution most definitely does not provide this.”

    Can you say if this is what you meant?

    Many thanks,


  10. Ms Honeyball,
    “Few women either enter or stay as prostitutes willingly and most have a drug habit.”
    You are wrong on 3 counts with your confused sentence here.
    – That few women enter the country willingly is nonsense. Gay sex workers working in Poland find this country much more accepting of their lifestyle and come here willingly. Trans and female workers in Serbia find their is much less state violence here against them. See
    – If you mean that most women who are sex workers have a drug habit, then you are wrong. All the methodologically acceptable work shows that drug use is low in off-street work.
    – If you mean that of the female sex workers who enter this country unwillingly, many do not wish to do sex work, then you are also wrong. The Met Police long argued (back as far as the Sex Offences Review Seminars in 1999 at Queen Anne’s Gate) that of the cases they dealt with, many of the women who are brought here know they are going to do sex work and the majority are in sex work in their home state. What they are sometimes misled about the debt they have to pay for travel, or the conditions in which they work. This is a very different thing. Many sex workers in this position, once the debt is paid off, work for themselves.
    Now you could be confused yourself, or it is just the way that you have written the sentence that is confused. Or you do not have a good grasp of the scientifically acceptable research in this area. If I were you Ms Honeyball, I would focus on: 1) acquainting yourself with the scientific work in this area, 2) then trying to prevent the misrepresentation of scientific evidence in this area, 3) on building good links with MEPs who have taken the trouble to acquaint themselves with the scientific work in this area (Chris Davies is one such MEP who has done so), and most importantly 4) listen to what sex worker groups say here and in Europe.
    I would have more respect for your opinion if you had spoken to, and then quoted the German sex worker unions, to state how the World Cup had affected them. Rather than objecting to them plying their trade. If other trade is allowed at all on the streets, then there is no reason why they should not be allowed to meet their clients on the streets.

    1. Dr Brooks-Gordon, Thank you very much for your comments. I suspect part of the reason we disagree is that much of the research is contradictory. I have had a great deal of contact with the Poppy Project in London who provide services for prostitutes and trafficked women, and their views are very different from yours. I would also like to point you in the direction of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Report 2000-09 whose findingd tend to bear out what I have said.

  11. Ms Honeyball,

    I’m slightly confused. You claim to be all for equality on the one hand, whilst on the other suggesting that people with disabilities should gain some sort of special treatment, in terms of the law, when it comes to the sex industry. This is both highly illogical and offensive.

    Further, may I point out that your “comments in the blog post still stand” only in the sense that they are nothing more than conjecture and opinion – nothing more, nothing less – and it strikes me as rather presumptious to simply quote yourself when replying to comments posted here.



  12. Mary Honeyball. As I suspected you have taken the research done by predominantly government funded groups like the Poppy project and applied those findings to a whole industry.
    As an MEP how can you justify such bias? The research and findings from the Poppy project has been heavily criticised by leading academics. Indeed it is hard to find academics who support the findings of groups like Poppy.
    You really must look at the research with an open mind before forming opinions that will have devastating effects on the lives of others.
    I strongly urge that you find time to accept invitations from sex worker groups who will be happy to provide research and information that is vital if you are to form a truly unbiased opinion.

    1. Dr Petra thanks for your post regarding the campaign I have launched – however, I am a little confused by some of your comments. I have not ignored the comment by the Birkbeck professor Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, who I presume you refer to. I have read the articles that she linked to, taken her comments on board and responded to her.

      As a vehement opponent to the legalisation of prostitution and believer in the Swedish model of criminalising the purchase of prostitutes I support programmes, such as the Poppy Project, which aid women exiting prostitution over and above those helping women to subsist whilst working as prostitutes.

      I appreciate the excellent work done by organisations to improve the health of female prostitutes, but this is not the purpose of my campaign against the closure of the Met’s anti-trafficking unit.

      Human trafficking, the third biggest international crime after arms and drug smuggling, doesn’t just affect female prostitutes but also children and men who are trafficked for among other things the purpose of domestic servitude.

      So from my campaigning perspective, as a European politician who can not influence country’s individual health provisions, I can best focus my efforts on stopping women being trafficked into prostitution in the first place. A solution which will also protect them against health problems associated with being a sex worker in the future.

  13. Dear Mary

    I need to draw your attention to the fact that Douglas Fox is a pimp. The term ‘sex worker’ is used to include anyone who works in the industry from what I can gather. Fox co-owns an ‘excort agency’ in the north east of England. If you need further information on this please email me.

    Best, Julie Bindel

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